Homework in Horsemanship – it takes time, it takes planning, it takes a passion to improve.

Homework in Horsemanship – it takes time, it takes planning, it takes a passion to improve.

By: Michael Guerini, B.S., M.S., Ph.D.

Doing homework is critical for the safety and welfare of both horse and rider.

When we think of homework, many adults cringe and recall the days of elementary school, high school, and college when they had homework. For our Youth…when they hear the word homework, they often share how much other “real school” homework they have to complete and that they do not have time for the “horse homework.”

Why does such a simple word cause such a negative reaction for many folks … because homework is work and rarely do people consider it fun (but they should if it is done correctly and with a purpose that helps us with our passion).

Now if we have a favorite subject – let us say trail riding, obstacle work, working cattle, or jumping — just like a favorite subject in school…the homework associated with those activities gets done. For many people – homework is only focused on the “fun” part of the riding experience. These folks will work on specific activities that they see as fun…or as a means to their end goal of getting a win or an award.

Homework for People.

Homework is working on obstacles.

Homework is jumping.

Homework is working cattle.

Homework is riding that dressage test to help the rider memorize the “pattern.”

Homework is purchasing the new blinged bridle or pad or clothing so you look good.

For good horsewomen and good horsemen — there is so much more to homework. Homework is about gymnastic work for the mind and body of the horse and rider. This list below is the homework done by good horsewomen and horsemen – this is the list that true riders focus on.

Homework for good horsewomen and horsemen and Riders.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be straight.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be obedient.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be fit.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse know where his/her feet are at all times.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be supple.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be responsive.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse be balanced.

Homework is working on exercises to help our horse bend correctly.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider balance.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider feel of the horse’s feet.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider refinement of aids.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider breathing.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider planning ahead while riding.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider connection.

Homework is working on exercises to improve rider stamina.

Homework is working on transitions.

Homework is working on the Walk.

Homework is working on patience.

Now in case you missed it – I separated homework into two categories —

Homework for People & Homework for good horsewomen and horsemen and Riders.

Of course I made this separation intentionally – because the next section is for the riders who want to do homework to develop both the horse and rider.  Here is a list of exercises that will help good riders (and their horses) continue to improve and be ready to take on anything and succeed and focus on the well-being of the horse.

  • Shallow Loop serpentines at the walk and trot
  • Walk and trot your horse from the ground. Do this from both sides … plan to work ¼ mile or more on each side of the horse and at each gait. If you cannot trot – then work the walk at multiple tempos. (This is much to do about harmony of horse and handler and rider fitness).
  • Set up one of those amazing ground pole patterns we see all over the internet … work those patterns at walk and trot while riding your horse.
  • Walk and trot transitions in the saddle – make transitions between the gaits every 13 strides.
  • Walk and trot work over ground poles with and without 4 1/2 to 5 feet spacing between the 3 ground poles.
  • Walk work without stirrups while riding and focus on Turn on Forehand, Turn on Haunches, backing, side passing, and balanced halts – all without stirrups.
  • Work on riding straight lines at walk and trot. Make sure your eyes are up and that your seat bones are even and that you are balanced. Have a spotter to make sure you are keeping your eyes up and looking ahead.
  • Ground poles work from the ground with your horse. Work at walk and trot and do this on a cavesson or halter.  With and without saddle is a great way to work the horse.  Make certain you are working to achieve straightness of your horse with the proper bend.
  • Ride staircase leg yields at the walk with your horse. Notice if your horse has the ability to move the same in each direction.
  • Count footfalls on a straight line and on circles at the walk and trot. Mark out your straight line and circles with cones (or other marker) and work on consistency of the number of footfalls from cone to cone (marker to marker) at both walk and trot.  You can do this from the saddle on this day.
  • Ride squares and practice TOH (Turn on the Haunches) at each corner going in both directions then work on TOF (Turn on Forehand) at each corner going in both directions.
  • Walk and trot in the Snowman pattern (from Jane Weatherwax – 20 m circle, then 15 m circle then 10 m circle). If your horse is not at the developmental stage to properly execute a 15 m or 10 m circle – then consider making each a 20 m circle).  For the proper snowman…if you start left, then middle circle is right, then last circle is left — switch it up and start both directions.
  • Ride S turns through a circle at walk and trot
  • Ride at walk and trot around 7 cones (use buckets or rocks if you do not have cones). Keep focused on bend and tempo
  • At the trot, practice three seat positions of rising/posting, sitting and two point….and keep tempo the same
  • Ride a 20 meter circle at walk and trot at three different tempos in both directions
  • Core day! Work on core exercises for you and for your horse.  Hillary Clayton has a great book on core exercises for your horse.  For the rider – leg lifts or sit ups might work nicely – you decide.  Once you get your plan set for this day – consider doing this 3 times a week for you and your horse.
  • Trot to halt to back for two steps and then ride forward once again at the trot. Repeat this up to 10 times.
  • Work on moving shoulders of the horse to the left and right at the walk and trot
  • Work on improving the finesse of your rider aids by tossing a ball or kicking a ball (with both hands and legs).
  • Ride the Spiraling Circle at the walk (and if you feel it is good – then also complete at the trot). For sure go both clockwise and counterclockwise. Do a 20m, then 18m, then 16m, then 14m and finally a 12m circle and then go back up at the same size change.  Really focus on stabilizing the circle and bend before you worry about going to the next size smaller or larger circle.

Be more for your horse and be more for yourself — ride with a focus on mental and physical gymnastics so that you live your passion of riding.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and you are most welcome to share this blog if you wish.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a scientist, author, and horsemanship Coach in Gilroy California.  Mike is focused on balanced horsemanship that takes into account the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being of the horse.  Mike is also the co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T.  You can learn more about Dr. Mike at www.dunmovinranch.com.

 

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Natural Horsemanship (NH) — Onward and Forward – Moving beyond NH to continue to improve horse and rider.

Natural Horsemanship (NH) — Onward and Forward – Moving beyond NH to continue to improve horse and rider.

By: Michael Guerini, B.S., M.S., Ph.D.

Since the early 1980’s, Natural Horsemanship (NH) has seen rapid growth in popularity – particularly among western riders. The techniques vary but are known for focusing on ground work, getting respect, developing a better relationship with the horse, and of course the rope halter has become famously associated with this way of working with horses.

Having apprenticed with a natural horsemanship trainer and having used many of the ideas in my training/coaching, I am very familiar and happy with what I have learned and still continue to use in many situations. For me, Natural Horsemanship methods are a good base for many riders/owners and enthusiasts.

In this blog, I share some thoughts on the good aspects of NH, some of the not so good aspects, and then I offer suggestions on areas needing more focus that currently are not always considered from the NH offerings.

What it has done – the good
1) Ground manners for horses have improved.
2) Many people spend more time working with their horses because they have acquired information that has helped boost confidence or skill of the handler/rider.
3) There has been an increase in rider ability to do homework directed by a trainer and this has opened up more competition and riding options for horse/rider.
4) In most situations, the welfare of the horse has improved … but there are a few “natural methods” that are not welfare-based.
5) There are a number of other good things including getting more people to talk about horse training and building more horse friendly communities — to name just a few.

What it has done – the not so good
1) Developed a quasi-scientific narrative of the ethology of horse behavior. We think we know what a horse behavior means because somebody said something about that behavior – but we really do not have concrete proof gathered by scientific observational methods for all the ideas we espouse.
2) Allowed some folks to think that if they have the “right” halter or pad or saddle or flag (on a stick – sometimes it has a string and not a flag) or “right” type of reins/bit/spurs – folks can branch out and train horses for friends and family or start colts.
3) Celebrated two and three day colt starting ideology. Yes – the colt can be started in this period of time but the key is that it is just a start. These events are a little too commercial and a little too unrealistic and a little too romanticized. I say this because I have met people along my journey who decided that after going to a few of these colt starting events, watching some DVD’s, watching YouTube videos, and attending a few clinics – they can train the excitable or flighty or troubled or green horse. Seeing the after effects of the rider with broken bones or broken confidence or the horse that has been injured is not a good thing.

We should (and MUST for the welfare and protection and development) of the horse (and rider) realize that Natural Horsemanship is one step on our journey to becoming horsewomen/men – we must continue to learn and improve and include other ideas and philosophies into our horsemanship toolkit.

Here are just a few areas I suggest need more attention because we do not often encounter these topics in the Natural Horsemanship circles and discussions.
1) Asymmetry/Laterality/Straightness – There has been a great expansion into understanding the sidedness of a horse (left or right), where horses may have asymmetrical features, and a reminder (from classical horsemanship) that straightness is a key to longevity and proper movement. Understanding these issues can improve the performance and longevity of the horse. This is most especially important for further refining the use of the round pen that has strong ties to NH….we need to make certain that our work in the round pen (and riding) is done right for the progressive development of the horse and with a focus on improving its Asymmetry/Laterality/Straightness.
2) BALANCE — Learn more about balance of the horse and balance of the rider. How the rider sits (straight or leaning) … how the rider uses her/his seat bones … all affect the balance of the horse. An imbalanced rider can put the horse out of balance and create situations that may lead to physical issues of the horse. Without balance … we have lameness, injury, and loss of longevity. There are also the ideas of mental and emotional balance that come into play especially for the rider and in some cases most certainly for the horse. We need to focus on seat and leg and understanding how the horse shifts its weight for balance and we need to discuss how the rider weight shifts can affect hose balance. We need to understand the physics of the head and neck in relation to balance of the balance parts for the horse. Additionally, the Classical Training scale speaks to relaxation as a key level of the training pyramid and most assuredly, in relaxation…the mind, body, and emotions can come into balance.
3) POSTURE — Increase our understanding and abilities to help horses (and riders) develop correct postures. First, we have to understand anatomy… bones and muscles and fascia … and then we need to understand a little more about form and function (how things look and how they work). Again back to the round pen use – we need to make sure that we are promoting good posture by the horse working in the round pen (simply running a horse continually in a counterbent form with the head up and the back hollowed out is not correct for posture). Further on about posture … we need to understand what pulling the head around by the reins while we are standing still (and then also while we are moving) may be doing to injure the neck of the horse.
4) Saddle/Tack Fit. Saddle Fit, bit shape, bit size, bit type, pad type, pad/saddle length, leg wraps … we need to stop and ask for evidenced based answers for how to select what is right for the horse. Just because a well-known NH person sells a saddle or bit or pad … does not mean it is right or the right fit for your horse. There are some really good NH people out there that do saddle fit correctly (I have seen them measure the saddle/tree to fit the horse) … and many know a great deal about bits … and in almost 95% of these situations where I have seen good happen in the area of saddle/tack fit – the horse is fitted directly for these pieces of tack (meaning that the saddle or bit is not bought at an expo or online – it is purchased with good guidance by the maker/seller).

I am not suggesting to anyone that we throw Natural Horsemanship methods away or that they are wrong….I AM suggesting that we need to take the next steps and focus on how we can further the conversation and do more (do better) for the horse.

There are a number of individuals and organizations that can help horse and rider gain more knowledge for the betterment of the horse. I know that my list here will not be complete … but I offer a number of people and organizations that I go to for further information to continue to advance my learning. Organizations – International Society for Equitation Science, riderfitness.com, Equinology, 4DimensionDressage International – to name just a few. People – Manolo Mendez, Thomas Ritter, Deb Bennett, Marijke de Jong, teachings of Sally Swift and Mark Russell — again this is a short list and there are so many more who are willing to educate for the benefit of the horse.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and you are most welcome to share this blog if you wish.
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Dr. Mike Guerini is a scientist, author, and horsemanship Coach in Gilroy California. Mike is focused on balanced horsemanship that takes into account the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being of the horse. Mike is also the co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T. You can learn more about Dr. Mike at http://www.dunmovinranch.com.

Horse Riding Basics — 4 Critical Items (often overlooked) that we need to Learn (and Review often) before we ever ride

Horse Riding Basics — 4 Critical Items (often overlooked) that we need to Learn (and Review often) before we ever ride

By: Mike Guerini, B.S., M.S., Ph.D.

When we set off to learn to ride a horse…there is so much to learn many people are often overwhelmed. Enthusiastic beginners and those returning to riding after many years out of the saddle want to get to the riding part as quickly as possible. Instructors teach basic grooming, saddling, how to mount, how to go forward and how to stop a horse — often in just one or a few lessons. These are all critical items to learn for sure. Once in the saddle we hear about different speeds (and how to get them and control them) and we also hear a great deal about equitation (heel hip shoulder alignment).

Quite often when I meet riders on their journey I note four major deficiencies in what I call basic understanding and needs before riding. While those of us who instruct and love horses want to see people in the saddle and enjoying our sport — it is important that these four basics are learned or understood before any rider ever legs up onto the back of the horse.

#1 — Balance — this is critical for success in the saddle. Riders need to understand that balance is tied to the rider seat and that the rider must have balanced seat bones in order to ride successfully. Along with balance…riders need to know how breathing helps their balance. Riders should be able to sit and practice changing their balance through their seat and to learn how their position related to shoulders and hips and legs all contribute to balance.  So before we ever get on a horse — we need to focus on balance and this will truly make the equitation part easier.  Suggestions — work on balance on a trampoline or shifting weight from foot to foot, jumping rope, Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi….any number of exercises focused on balance are critical for your success as a rider.

#2 — Independent Use of Aids (legs and hands and seat) — The welfare of the horse is protected when riders learn to use their legs and seat and hands independently (and this should be learned before we ever leg up on a horse).  New and returning riders often pull and kick at the same time…this is confusing for the horse and depending on the level of simultaneous pull and kick — it may be downright abusive. Suggestions — work on ball toss and ball kicks or swimming with an independent scissors kick …. work on exercises that have you use a hand and leg independently for two tasks.  Successful riders work on these exercises before and after rides and new learners should have a degree of mastery of the use of independent aids before getting on the horse.

#3 — Understanding Rhythm — We need to know that the horse walk has a 4 beat rhythm, trot is a two beat rhythm, canter/lope is a 3 beat rhythm and gallop is once again a 4 beat rhythm.  We can discuss this  — but we also need to diagram what happens in each of these rhythms.  We need to take lunge lessons (rider on horse being lunged) to help develop an understanding of rhythm.  We need to watch the horses in pasture/pen/paddock and see how they move and think about how that feels for your body. …there are also some great videos out there on the dynamics of movement.   Suggestions — Take time for lunge lessons and observation of your horse in movement without a rider. Watch a video on the dynamics of movement.

#4 — Ground Work — All riders need to spend time working with a horse from the ground up.  Learn how the horse body bends, moves, how the feet move and what type of reach the horse has in leg extension.  Understand how we can influence movement through our aids, through pressure and release….and understand this movement so that you know when you execute a Turn on the Forehand (for example) — you know that the hind end will travel in a larger circle around the front end that is traveling in a small circle (and let me remind you there is a great deal more detail to the Turn on the Forehand beyond what I have shared here). Suggestions — watch videos, take lessons focused only on ground work, draw out how a horse moves in each of the movements from the ground that you will want to do in a saddle.

We most likely can identify other areas of deficiency in riding … but these are most often overlooked by the enthusiastic new rider.  Do your horse a favor .. for the welfare of the horse make certain that you take time to include these four items in your learning and ride preparation.

Thank you for reading this blog and please feel free to share.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a scientist, author, and horsemanship Coach in Gilroy California.  Mike is focused on balanced horsemanship that takes into account the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being of the horse.  Mike is also the co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T.  You can learn more about Dr. Mike at www.dunmovinranch.com.

Lunge work with Horses – Three roads to explore.

Lunge work with Horses – Three roads to explore.

by Dr. Mike Guerini

Say the words “lunge a horse” to a group of horse people and then ask what that means to each person and you will likely receive a wide variety of responses. Cherry Hill Horsemanship books define lunge work as “generally thought of as a means to either train a young horse or warm up an experienced horse before a ride, the benefits of and uses for longeing (lungeing) are so varied that it should be a part of the training and exercise program of all horses.” (LINK HERE). The responses vary based on the experience of the horseman/woman and his/her goals.

 

For example, an acquaintance of mine who shows AQHA halter horses sees lunge work as exercise for muscle building and developing tone and to keep her horse in condition. She practices her lunge work with a timer and works eight minutes each direction. This is what she knows and she bases the success of her lunge work on her ability to achieve her goals in halter competition.

 

Another friend of mine sees lunge work as a way to gain respect and submission of the horse. This person continues to develop more finesse with his body position and subtle aids while doing the round pen version of the lunge work. This friend is very interested in liberty training and sees the round pen as a tool to help develop the necessary connection for liberty work.

 

Another person I know shares the idea that lunge work is to get the horse to settle down and pay attention to the handler/rider. The lunge work can be used to take off some excess energy.

 

By these three examples – you can see each person has a different purpose in mind for lunge work. For the 10 or so years I have known each of these folks … there have been no significant changes in the way they lunge.

 

Over the course of the last 5 years, my understanding AND use of lunge work has evolved. This review will briefly explore three types of lunge work. There is the round pen lunge work favored by many of the Natural Horsemanship (NH) practitioners, lunge line work on a halter, and in-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson.

 

Round Pen Lunge work:

This is often used in early colt starting or working with a problem horse that is unable to be caught (they can be moved into a round pen) or a horse that is unsafe. There are many goals with this type of lunge work and I list some of them here:

  • “turn and face” or yield the hindquarters and teach respect
  • Teaching the gaits (walk, trot/jog, canter/lope)
  • Teaching horse to pay attention to handler and then connect or join with the handler
  • Stamina development, exercise, take off excess energy

 

I have successfully used this method of lunge work at times when needed. When using this method, we look for body language or signs from the horse that help us know he/she is paying attention and ready to accept our leadership. There is a benefit for this work so long as the handler understands the purpose, has a goal, and does not use this as a form of punishment.

 

Scientific investigations of Round Pen work:

For a more detailed analysis of this work, I recommend you read work by Henshall and McGreevy (Click HERE) to begin your studies and if you are interested, contact me and I shall direct you to other resources.

 

Cautions for Round Pen work:

If our body language is not correct, we can confuse the horse. We can overwork the horse in one direction and develop lameness. We can allow the horse to develop improper biomechanics (as exemplified when the horse is looking outside the pen at times and becomes counterbent)…or we can enhance improper biomechanics by being unable to influence small changes. Pressure and Release works — pressure motivates and the release is what trains the horse. We must be cautious when using flags and other such devices that we do not overdo the pressure or push to far that the release does not allow “training” to occur. There is a great deal of science on this topic of pressure and release/fear based training – and this will be discussed on another day.

 

Benefits for Round Pen work:

  • Teaching the gaits (walk, trot/jog, canter/lope) and aids
  • Teaching horse to give attention to handler and then connect or join with the handler
  • Establishing leadership by the human and the requisite obedience by the horse
  • Development of stamina (if done with interval training and not overwork of one side of the horse)

 

Lunge line work on a halter:

This is often used for a sending exercise and go forward work (possibly over/through a trail obstacle or near a “scary” object). This can also be used to “burn off excess energy,” and it is necessary for lunge line classes. Lunge work on a halter can also be used with an unruly horse to establish human leadership or to keep a horse moving its feet when you do not have a round pen in the local vicinity.

 

Much of what we do and think about lunge work on a halter is very similar to our lunge work in a round pen.

 

I have successfully used this method of lunge work for teaching horses to go through/over a trail obstacle, load in a trailer, learn to lead…and many other applications. When using this method, we must be certain to keep our horse and ourselves safe.

 

Scientific investigations of Lunge line work on a halter:

From my review, it does not appear that a detailed scientific analysis has been conducted for this type of work on a lunge line.

 

Cautions for Lunge line work on a halter:

We can overwork the horse in one direction and develop lameness. We can allow the horse to develop improper biomechanics (as exemplified when the horse is looking outside the pen at times and becomes counterbent)…or we can enhance improper biomechanics by being unable to influence small changes. We can also pull from the underside of the horse’s head and cause incorrect rotation of the cervical vertebrae if we pull to hard, to often, or with constant pressure. We can have a snap on the halter that some use to get the attention of the horse and that can be out of alignment with equine welfare standards if the snap hits the horse.

 

Benefits for Lunge line work on a halter:

  • Go forward over/through trail work
  • Proper training for lunge line classes
  • Trailer loading
  • Stamina development
  • Gain attention

 

In-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson:

As a relative newcomer to the use of a cavesson or serrata…only discovering it in the past 2 years as I have learned from the works of Manolo Mendez, Jillian Kreinbring, Gerd Heuschmann, DVM, Klaus Schoneich … to name but a few….and I promise my journey of learning shall continue along this path.

 

This is a must read article (HERE) and this DVD (HERE) is a must for all who are interested in developing a deeper understanding of biomechanics of the horse.

 

Here are some online resources to read with respect to the lunge cavesson/serrata use and biomechanics (HERE) (HERE) (HERE) — these are but a few resources.

 

Personally, for me, the cavesson or serrata are tools to be used when the handler wants to focus on developing proper biomechanics. We can and should use the cavesson or serrata when we are interested in helping repair, rehabilitate, or develop the posture and shape of the horse so that we promote proper biomechanics for the health and welfare of the horse. The cavesson or serrata can enable the handler to give more focused guidance to the horse. This is also an excellent tool to use with long line work.

 

Scientific investigations of In-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson:

Peer reviewed articles were not found for this area of work although I can say that experts such as Dr. Kerry Ridgeway supported the use of the cavesson/serrata…but there needs to be scientific study of this in the future.

 

Cautions for In-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson:

Not all cavesson/serrata are created equal. Some are clunky and heavy and some are ill fitting. In truth, work of this type must include scholarship/study of learned professionals. Manolo Mendez is one such professional that I urge everyone to listen to with respect to the cavesson/serrata. Personally, the Micklem Multibridle with a single center ring is my favored cavesson at this time for lunge work and one I travel with to every clinic and lesson. I also encourage all folks who use a cavesson to connect it to the lunge line through the use of a leather tie/buckle or cowboy snap….a metal clip can be

 

Benefits for In-hand directed lunge work with a cavesson:

  • Develop engagement
  • Work with horse to develop proper bend (through shoulder-in)
  • Work to develop proper tracking up and straightness/carriage
  • Work to develop forward/down/open stretch of the horse across its topline
  • Shoulder-In on the ground
  • Everything you can do with a normal halter/lunge line as well

 

Summary of best application for each when used properly:

Round Pen –  developing leadership and obedience early on in training, some use for stamina

Lunge line – go forward, work through obstacles or help with habituation, stamina

In-hand cavesson – biomechanics and refinement of posture development and rehabilitation of the horse and all other activities assigned to lunge on the halter.

 

This small write up here is meant to give you more “food for thought” so that you can choose the most appropriate tool(s) for working with your horse(s) that promote welfare and proper development. I have included multiple links for you to watch/read and encourage you to open dialogues with other equestrians as to the benefits of the lunge work you are using. If you cannot answer how the lunge work you are using benefits the welfare, safety, and learning of the horse — it may be time to rethink and refine your practices.

 

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a scientist, equestrian, and coach from California. Dr. Mike teaches in the Gilroy/San Jose California area, Stockton California area, and teaches private clinics in a few locations across the United States. www.dunmovinranch.com is the home website for Dr. Mike.

PSSM and your horse –balancing your work/exercise routines (good information for any horses with muscle issues)

PSSM and your horse –balancing your work/exercise routines (good information for any horses with muscle issues)

by Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com) 

Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (EPSM, PSSM, EPSSM) is an inheritable glycogen storage disease of horses that causes exertional rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of muscle tissue that leads to the release of muscle fiber contents into the blood). It is most commonly associated with heavy horse breeds and the American Quarter Horse. PSSM can be managed with appropriate diet and exercise.

Horses with PSSM show fewer clinical signs if their exercise is slowly increased over time (i.e. they are slowly conditioned). The University of Minnesota Equine Center shares the following information —–

“For chronic cases, prolonged rest after an episode appears to be counterproductive and predisposes PSSM horses to further episodes of muscle pain. With PSSM it is NOT advisable to only resume exercise when serum Creatine Kinase activity is normal. Rather, horses should begin small paddock turn out as soon as reluctance to move has abated. Providing daily turn out with compatible companions can be very beneficial as it enhances energy metabolism in PSSM horses.” The University continues with more generalized information on some possible exercise programs.

All of us equine trainers and coaches and enthusiasts will agree that there is not one fix-all, cure-all, best system to use when we are working with a horse. Add muscle issues into the mix and it further complicates the planning of our work sessions.

We need to approach exercises with horses that exhibit PSSM with an wide spectrum of activities. When I say spectrum, I mean something that has quite a bit of variability in between the two extremes. In this case we can think of the spectrum of exercise from zero exercise (horse left to its own in a stall or paddock) to working a horse for let us say 4 hours at a time. These would be considered as extremes (zero to 4 hours of work).

As I have spent some time reading on PSSM, reviewing veterinary research articles and reading work from exercise physiology people, I have put together some ideas on how people who have horses affected by PSSM might begin to structure the best possible exercise experience for the horse.

While each horse is unique — these exercises and ideas below are provided as thinking points to expand where you and your horse might be. In all things….do what is right for the horse. Also – it is important to do these correctly.

I will break down my suggestions for the exercise process into these categories:

Observations of the Horse:

Hands on touching of the Horse:

Warm-Up of the Horse:

Working through stretching and strength building:

Cool down and recovery time at the end:

 

Observations of the Horse:

One of the skills that all horse owners and trainers need to develop is the ability through visual observation to notice changes in the horse. We start with looking for big changes and then we move towards looking for small changes. This takes time … but it is critical that we can assess on any given day how the horse is feeling. Movement is dynamic….when a horse is not moving….it is not able to keep proper circulation working and this leads to multiple other complications.

Many people who deal with PSSM horses or other horses with injury find that it is difficult to see the improvements or changes for the better. I recommend that people use video and photography to document changes in the horse. Sometimes when we look for changes each day we might miss them…but if we compare the look on days 1, 14 and 24….we are more likely to see the changes. When we can see what is happening…it helps us to know that we are making progress.

Observation is also critical when working the horse. The handler/rider needs to be able to easily monitor heart rate and respiration. Chart the heart rate and respiration for the horse and work so that the increase in a week is no more than 10% to 15% of the maximal output from the week before.

Hands on touching of the Horse:

We need to be familiar with how the horse feels at any point in time. This includes how the horse feels before, during, and after exercise. My number one recommendation for horses that have muscle issues is for the handler to become familiar with the muscle or muscles that are affected. Become familiar by having your hands on these muscles and feel for tightness, looseness, heat, and changes in ability to stretch. Hands on compliments the observations.

Masterson Method and TTouch methods immediately come to mind for me as ways in which horse owners can learn how muscles feel and how to assess their current state.

Warm-Up of the Horse:

Warm up may be 3 to 5 minutes and it very much depends on the capability of the horse. For those that are not being ridden, this will be ground work. For those being ridden, it may include ground work and/or saddle time.

Let us begin with some ground work exercises and where this can help. I strongly advocate for mixing and matching groundwork over the days of the week.

Lunge work: For this we do not want speed. Walk and trot is just fine, canter can happen if the horse feels it is right and gives you signs (such as the horse decides to canter). With Walk and Trot we want to focus on consistent tempo…we do not want to be varying the beats per minute…we want consistent beats per minute. We do not want to work the same direction for any long period of time. Switch directions after every 60 seconds. Be very observant as to signs of stress and signs of muscle fluidity and motion. Work to keep the horse balanced and upright on the lunge.

In-hand (halter or bridle) groundwork:

This can include walk and whoa work. In hand trotting may be appropriate if the handler and horse have a similar tempo. Turn on forehand and Turn on haunches can be done but should be minimized in the early stages of work. As the horse develops more range of motion and functionality, these can be added in. Walking in shallow loop serpentines is a good plan, a few circles each direction is fine (50 to 60 foot diameter circles), and walking over ground poles all can be done. In hand stretch work to include walking in stretchy circles or lines is appropriate.

Riding Warm-up:

This can include walk and whoa work and some trotting. The key here is to have consistent tempo to the gait. Turn on forehand and Turn on haunches can be done but should be minimized in the early stages of work much like I suggested for the Ground work. As the horse develops more range of motion and functionality, these can be added in. Walking in shallow loop serpentines is a good plan, a few circles each direction is fine (50 to 60 foot diameter circles), and walking over ground poles all can be done. Lateral work can be added as the horse advances.

Working through stretching and strength building:

One of the keys in the work plan is to take a properly warmed up horse and focus on exercises that can help gymnasticize the horse.

Here are a series of movements and some guidance as to why you do them. Some of these may be appropriate…but I must urge you to remember that each horse is different and by your observation and touch and re-evaluation through the warm-up period you (and possibly your trainer/coach) will know what is best for the horse.

Stretch work exercises:

Leg yield

Shoulder-in

Stretchy circles or stretchy walk in straight lines

Balance exercises:

Transitions (from walk to trot – doing so every 10 strides (or a count of ten))

Shoulder In

Circles

Figures of 8

Adjustability of the horse range of motion: (this is for horses that are freely moving)

Lengthen and extend the gaits. Slow walk, normal walk, fast walk (speed is tempo = beats per minute)

Engagement and Strengthening of the hind end:

Walking pirouette

Walk over ground poles

Trot over ground poles

Turn on the forehand

Slow spirals

Increasing mobility and Strengthening of the shoulders:

Walk pirouette

Turn on haunches

Shallow loop serpentines (15 to 16’ difference between top and bottom of serpentine)

 

These are only examples and may not be right for you and your horse….

but hopefully they give you some food for thought.

 

Sample Exercise Plan for horse not being ridden

Day of the Week Warm Up   3 to 5 minutes Exercise 5 to 10 minutes Cool down   5 to 10 minutes
Sunday Day off with turnout Day off with turnout Day off with turnout
Monday Walk and Whoa and Trot Work over trot poles & change from walk to trot Walk in Figures of 8 to cool down
Tuesday Walk in stretchy circle and shallow serpentines Walk and trot with horse over ground poles & Lunge 3 to 5 minutes Shallow loop serpentines at the walk to cool down
Wednesday Day off with turnout Day off with turnout Day off with turnout
Thursday Lunge 3 to 5 min Turn on haunches & Slow spirals Walk in Figures of 8 to cool down
Friday Walk and Whoa and Trot in straight lines Go for a long walk down a straight road for 10 minutes. Shallow loop serpentines at the walk to cool down
Saturday Lunge 3 to 5 min Turn on forehand & Walk in stretchy circle and shallow serpentines Walk in Figures of 8 to cool down

 

 

 

Sample Exercise Plan for horse being ridden – low to moderate issues

Day of the Week Warm Up   3 to 5 minutes Exercise 5 to 10 minutes Cool down   5 to 10 minutes
Sunday Day off with turnout Day off with turnout Day off with turnout
Monday Ground work Lunge Walk pirouette & 10 stride transitions

 

Stretchy circles or stretchy walk in straight lines
Tuesday Shallow loop serpentines Lengthen and extend the gaits &

Turn on the forehand

Figures of 8 at walk and trot
Wednesday Day off with turnout Day off with turnout Day off with turnout
Thursday Walk to trot transitions Slow spirals &

Turn on haunches

Shallow loop serpentines at walk
Friday Ground work walk in stretchy circle and shallow serpentines Walk pirouette & Walk and trot over ground poles

 

Figures of 8 at walk and trot
Saturday Figures of 8 at walk and trot Stretchy circles or stretchy walk in straight lines &

10 stride trot to walk transitions

Shallow loop serpentines at walk

 

 

Cool down and recovery time at the end:

The cool down is very key. We need to take horses with PSSM and muscle issues through a process of cooling down that includes making sure all the muscles are loose and that the horse has a range of motion for all major muscle groups. Cool down and recovery time still needs (as you see from above) bending and turning and working to a full range of motion at the walk.

 

The above are just some examples and thoughts that I have put together after reading a great many sources of information.

 

The keys to this article: 1) Keep your work to a reasonable amount of time 15 to 45 minutes … and this depends on the needs and welfare and ability of your horse.

2) Change things up and use a variety of exercises so that you work multiple muscle groups.

3) Observe and touch your horse to better understand how he/she is feeling and where there might be tightness.

 

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a national clinician, supporting member of the International Society of Equitation Science (www.equitationscience.com), author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in Performance based riding, Western Dressage and understanding your horse and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (www.coachscorral.com), an online Horsemanship Coaching program.

 

Riding Both Sides of your Horse — 5 Thoughts

Riding Both Sides of your Horse  — 5 Thoughts

by Dr. Mike Guerini, Ph.D. (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Does your horse have a difference in response on one side as compared to the other side?

As we become better riders, we must develop the ability to ride both sides of our horse – as the horse needs.

To do this, we need to feel the different sides.  Do you know which side of your horse is stiff, which side is hollow?  The stiff side has more tension and the horse’s jaw and poll is tighter and more resistant.  The body might feel like one giant solid 4 x 4 post.  Horses often lean into the stiffer side, fall (drop shoulder) into a circle, or make tight and abrupt turns.  On the hollow side, the horse has no resistance and you might have to work to keep contact on your horse because it gives so slightly to pressure.  As you move in the direction of the hollow side, the horse may drift to the outside or overbend.

There are reasons for a horse to have a difference between sides.  A horse can be right or left handed (scientifically proven based on in-utero implantation) and this creates a difference between the sides, uneven muscle development, and rider related issues (balance, rider asymmetry, etc.).

Here are five thoughts about how you can make sure you ride both sides of your horse.

  1. Determine which side is the hollow side and which is the stiff side.  When you know this, you can make certain that through correct exercises you help the horse become more balanced/even on each side.  Work with your coach to develop a plan so that you actively exercise both sides of your horse.
  2. Do contralateral training for the rider.  Make certain you are doing the right exercises for the rider – these should include contralateral exercises (exercises that rely on movement of body parts on the opposite side of the body).  This is important so that you can effectively use (for example) inside leg to outside rein (opposite parts of your body need to work in harmony).
  3. Improve Rider balance.  Work on rider balance with Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi, or other programs that help you strengthen your balance and core.  Along the way, make sure your exercise program includes some good cardio work.
  4. Learn how to apply the aids correctly and as needed.  You may need a stronger aid on one-side verses the other (early on in your training).  Know this and make certain you adjust to the needs of your horse as you bring him into balance.  This will take time and it really benefits from riding with mirrors in your arena and even more so when you have a coach or video your rides (or video rides and review with your coach…even better).
  5. Learn to feel the balance in your horse.  This takes time but it is very critical.  Have an observer help you develop the feel.  Learn how it feels when your horse bulges out on one side, drops its shoulder on another side, has its rear end fall out of the circle or square.  Feel comes with time and it really helps to have someone coaching you (eyes on the ground as we say) so that you can have them tell you what is happening and you can develop the knowledge and feel….with this and your own rider preparation – you can then ride both sides of your horse to put him into balance and achieve rider to horse harmony.

Thank you for reading and please feel free to share.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).

Ground tie – Importance and How to teach your horse

Ground tie – Importance and How to teach your horse

by Dr. Mike Guerini, Ph.D. (www.dunmovinranch.com)

Does your horse know how to Ground Tie? Have you ever had the need to ground tie your horse?

Imagine yourself coming up at the end of a trail ride or needing to close the gate at the arena.  You are standing next to your horse and HOPE he stays put.  But alas, in those 3 seconds it took you to reach for and open the gate, your horse has pulled up a full mouth of luscious grass, stepped on (and broke) your new rein, jumped backwards with a head tossing flair, and trotted off towards the barn, road or somewhere you cannot quite get to quickly enough.

Before you begin, make sure you take away the common problems that keep you from succeeding in this ground tie training.  Remove the flies (fly spray works), find a bare patch of dirt for the first few training sessions (green grass is awfully distracting), and get away from any other distractions.

1. Connect with your horse.  Take time to do some ground work.  Practice walk, whoa, turn on the forehand, side pass, turn on the haunches, and backing….doing this with you on both sides of your horse.  Make sure you have solid ground work and that your horse is paying attention to you and will immediately respond to your ground work cues/aids/commands. If you need to spend a few days reinforcing your ground work and ground manners — please do so — it will save you time in the long run.

2. Reinforce the importance of the word “Whoa”. Take a few minutes and make sure every time you stop your horse when you are walking him on a lead line, you verbally say “whoa” and pull down on the lead line ever so slightly, then let the lead line go slack.

3. Once you are sure that the connection to your horse is strong and the ground work is solid, begin testing and strengthening that connection.  Open and close gates and doors and trailers and move bags and boxes while you have the lead shank in your hand.  Reinforce that your horse is to pay attention to you when you are performing any action you might do when you ground tie your horse (another example is getting a saddle out of the tack room).  In all of these actions, ask your horse to stand still — while you are still holding the end of the lead line.

4. As you get ready to begin the actual ground tie training.  Make sure that you trust your horse.  Begin the training by telling the horse “whoa,” pull down slightly on the lead line and then drop the lead line (so it goes slack) and walk away a few steps.  Be confident that your horse will stand where you left him.  Do not wait around once you say ‘whoa” and drop the lead line…make sure you walk away a few steps.  You must establish that you want the horse to stay and so you must give the horse a chance to make the mistake so that you can correct the mistake and take the opportunity to train your horse to do the correct thing.

5. After you have dropped the lead line and walked a few steps, just as soon as your horse moves, immediately turn around and establish the connection to your horse (pick up the lead line) and back your horse with a purpose and authority (note: this is not being mean, simply being firm to correct the wrong behavior).

I normally begin this training with an ~ 15 to 20 foot lead line.  What this lets me do is to drop the part closest to the horse while still letting me have ahold of the tail (end) of the lead line.  The cue for this command to ground tie for me is two-fold — I say the word “whoa”, then I pull down slightly on the lead line and drop it on the ground. 

It will take a few training sessions with your horse to get this command firm and listened to by your horse. 

Remember — make sure your ground work with your horse is very good, you are prepared and firm in your commands, and you use cues/aids that your horse easily can understand.

Some horses benefit from having this training start in a stall or small paddock.

We may all have some different ways of teaching to ground tie and I welcome you to share this blog and comment on additional ways you teach this important cue.

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Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).